South Texas lawmakers say they expect to continue down the path for increased funding for substance abuse programs in the Rio Grande Valley.

Speaking at a special open house of the new Hidalgo County Substance Treatment Facility on north “M” Road in Edinburg, Valley lawmakers and a bevy of state district judges welcomed the new facility designed to address substance abuse problems and provide treatment in three phases.

The facility initially opened its doors on Aug. 1, 2008, and provides services to convicted felony offenders as an alternative to incarceration.

State Rep. Aaron Pena, D-Edinburg, said expanding funds for users in the region will be the centerpiece of his legislative agenda.

“I am very happy about this, it’s a new day for criminal justice when you realize that it’s smart for the bottom line to provide rehabilitation. It’s also the right thing to do,” Peña said.

State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, were special guests at the open house, which was sponsored by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which funds the facility, the Hidalgo County Board of Judges, Hidalgo County Commissioners Court, and the Adult Probation Department.

State District Judges present were Rose Reyna, Letty Lopez, Juan Partida, Ricardo Rodriguez and Bobby Flores.

“From the very beginning I have always pushed that drug use is not a crime, drug use can lead to other crimes,” said Sen. Hinojosa, who sits on the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice. “I pushed that hard because a person who is addicted to drugs, instead of facing jail, should be given a chance to rehabilitate.”

The goal of the program is designed to ensure “clients” are not released until they demonstrate the capacity for success for dealing with substance abuse problems.

There are currently 24 women and 72 men receiving treatment at the facility.

“This is the only reason I am here as a legislator, it’s my primary focus and would to continue this because it’s part of growing healthy communities,” said Peña, who lost a son to drugs.

Following the 81st session Peña said his greatest achievement was securing funding for the $3 million Substance Abuse Facility in Edinburg. He was also successful in getting $750,000 for the Museum of South Texas History.

He also succeeded in acquiring $45 million for a Department of Public Safety center in Hidalgo County, $5 million for a DPS facility in Rio Grande City, and $10 million for the South Texas Hospital in Harlingen.